Board and Care(less)

When it comes to housing the mentally disabled, is better-than-nothing good enough?

When Ligon went out to the four-bedroom home, she found five adults "floating around the house" and a manager named Diane. Diane told her boarders stayed two to a room, got three meals a day as well as snacks and that their medications were monitored. Diane called owner Genevieve Walker, who in turn called Ligon. Walker denied that medication was given out and said Diane only did the cooking and the laundry.

Darrell said he was in a room with three other men and that Diane did give out medication. Ligon says Walker told her at one point that Darrell's "friend," a J.D. Blackwell, had brought all of Darrell's possessions from the apartment to him at the board-and-care. Later she said she didn't know where the property was.

The helpful Blackwell had taken Darrell to the Louis Fabre Clinic on Crawford. Darrell went voluntarily. They were going to pay him $500 to participate in a study of psychotic drugs, and Darrell needed the money. Places like the Fabre Clinic do these kinds of research studies, trying out drug companies' new products on patients. Ligon feels this is completely unethical. It was during this time, she says, that Darrell's apartment was stripped.

Darrell Jones was an easy target for people looking to make money off the mentally ill.
Deron Neblett
Darrell Jones was an easy target for people looking to make money off the mentally ill.

Dr. John Rodriguez of the Fabre Clinic told Ligon that Darrell had refused to tell them much of anything and nothing about any relatives. The Fabre Clinic declined to return a Press call.

Ligon says her son remained at the clinic for about six weeks. The clinic kept very detailed records, she says, and she commended it for its cleanliness. But as its own reports indicated, she says, Darrell was quiet and cooperative at the beginning of the drug trial and agitated at the end. He decided to leave, collected his check for $500, took another $400 out of his bank account, into which his latest social security check had been deposited, and stayed in hotels till he ran out of money. Then he lived on the streets before finally showing up at her house in the Idlewood subdivision.

Genevieve Walker has several businesses across the city and does not like to be questioned. In addition to owning the home on East OST, she also runs Silveridge Community Mental Health Center in the FM 1960 area. When Darrell and his parents visited the Horizons Group home in late June to look for his property, Diane put Walker on the phone with Darrell's stepfather, and a sometimes heated discussion ensued.

The next day, contacted by the Press, Walker reluctantly answered some questions.

"As far as we're concerned, nothing happened to Darrell Jones. As usual, we're always the scapegoat." She insisted repeatedly that her home was fine, that anything bad that happened to Darrell was on account of the people who transported him. Check out J.D. Blackwell, she said, but she didn't offer any way to contact him. She denied he ever worked for her.

Norma Ezema was the driver who regularly transported clients to the Horizons house. She denied working for Walker or knowing anything about what happened to Darrell. "I picked him up. I didn't do any of the feeding or the medication. Whoever's in charge there, they do that.

"I know she's got a lot of clients there. They seem to be okay. I didn't spend much time there." Later Ezema said she had worked for Walker's "partial hospital" rehabilitation program, another business Walker operates in the 1960 area.

Walker's speech was a contradiction of concern and denial. On the one hand, she said: "The state doesn't have to monitor me to get me to treat a person right." Then she insisted this was just a boarding house, like an apartment house, and they had nothing to do with the personal lives of the people who stayed there. She denied they were giving out medication. She said she had only three or four people staying there. When it was pointed out to her that there were six in the yard the night Darrell's parents visited, she started screaming, "Liar, liar! You are lying."

She said she wanted to meet in person, to get to the truth and would call back later that day to set up a tour of the house. She wouldn't leave a telephone number, and she never called back.

Meeting Darrell Burt Jones is a surprise. The man who presents himself is handsome, engaging, casually dressed and able to clearly explain what happened to him. It is easy to envision the National Merit Scholar he'd been in high school pulling down A's and B's, the college student.

This is Darrell in one of his good, lucid moments, his mother says. There are, of course, others less delightful, less hopeful, more violent.

Now his best hope for a life is at Liberty Island, where he is watched over and encouraged to learn and handle as much as he can in a supportive environment. He has now, finally, been medically diagnosed as suffering from a closed-head injury, which allows him to stay there, where he hands over his disability check each month. He's hoping to go to work for a local grocery store.

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